(Illustration: Leann E. Johnson/lea-way.com
(Illustration: Leann E. Johnson/lea-way.com

Not wanting to alarm my husband and infant son, in case they’ve fallen back asleep, I don’t call. I don’t even text. But I do take a picture with my camera-phone, because I need proof that I’ve done it, that I’m actually here: sitting in a 2005 Toyota Matrix, outside the Saint Anthony Park Library. This is incredible.

I hold the phone up steady against the window and make sure I get the whole of the building. It’s still a little dark outside so the picture’s fuzzy. It’s six in the morning on a Saturday in January, and I’m just getting started.

I feel encouraged, like I can do more—but how much more? Can I make it to, say, the Target on University Avenue? Maybe. Or no, wait, forget it. The construction. It might be too much for me.

But what about Highland Park? I could drive out there and get my husband some coffee and a Danish from that café on the corner. He loves a good cheese Danish. And if the place isn’t open yet, I’ll just practice parking. Perhaps even parallel parking.

Yes, Highland Park.

I adjust the seat, tilt the mirror, turn the heat down. I turn the radio on, then off. With my foot on the brake pedal, I shift the car into drive. This makes my stomach fold into itself.

Slowly, I inch away from the curb and toward the stoplight. The light is red, but it turns almost immediately and with it, so do I. Unfortunately, the car on the other side of the intersection turns too. I freeze. I apply the brakes, right there in the middle of the road, and scream simultaneously. The other driver honks and yells something at me. Possibly, she’s cursing. I don’t understand her but I unhook my hand from the steering wheel and offer a weak, shaky wave.

Sorry, I mouth. I’m so sorry.

You should be, she says. That, I can make out. She presses down on the gas, showing me her anger. It must have been her right of way.

Now Highland Park is definitely off too. And so am I. Going no more than fifteen miles an hour, I instead make the drive home, to our condo on Franklin Avenue in Saint Paul, wondering the whole way what it’s going to take. I’ve been practicing like this for months. How much longer can I do this? I’m in my thirties and I’m too afraid to drive.

At home I find my family awake and in the playroom.

“How’d it go?” my husband asks.

I show him the picture.

“The library! That’s great,” he says. “Maybe you can take him to story time there this week.”

I don’t tell him about the lady and the intersection. I don’t tell him that I won’t be able to take our son anywhere. Not this week. Not just yet.

Most people here learn to drive when they’re what, sixteen? At that age, I was living in Saudi Arabia, wearing a face-veil to high school. Driver’s ed wasn’t on my list of to-dos. It is, in fact, illegal for women to drive there. But I’ve been here, in America, since college; in the Twin Cities since 2008. I can’t still be hiding behind old excuses. My son needs me to be braver than this.

He’ll make sure I’m up early tomorrow, before the Sunday churchgoers are. That’s when I’ll head out again. Maybe this time I’ll make it to the café at Highland Park.

My husband, after all, really does love a good cheese Danish.


Hilal Isler now drives around Saint Paul with confidence.

Leann E. Johnson has been creating art (scratchboard illustration, relief printing, and tile design) for over fifteen years. A current resident of Minneapolis, she has illustrated for other publications, such as the New York Times. www.lea-way.com